Glenn Jones and the Mind Extension Business

One of the most interesting oral histories in The Cable Center’s collection belongs to Glenn R. Jones. Recently, our librarian received a box of historical items from Greg Liptak’s family and we discovered a video that ended with Jones’ vision of the future from almost 15 years ago, which took me back to his amazing story. Glenn Jones’ entry to the cable business is legendary. His prescient predictions for the cable industry and the future of the Internet are right on target. When Jones Intercable sold in 1999, Jones pursued what is arguably his greatest passion in the educational world—with a pivotal stop at the Library of Congress along the way.

Jones entered the Navy as an enlisted man and was quickly assigned to Officer Candidate School. He volunteered to become an underwater demolition expert and spent much of his time diffusing unexploded ordinance from World War II and the Korean War. When he was released from the Navy, he attended law school at the University of Colorado and practiced law in a few remote Colorado towns, including the mountain village of Georgetown. He was so broke he used a diner as his office and lived in his Volkswagen.

Cable intrigued him and he approached the owner of the Georgetown system, who was also a plumber and electrician. He brashly offered $12,000 for the system and told the man he would put $1,000 down. The man accepted, but Jones did not have the money. He refinanced his Volkswagen for $400 and the man agreed on a handshake to raise the additional $600 from the business. He had one hundred subscribers and a system that was falling apart, but he made the payments on time. Shortly after, Jones approached Woody Woodley who owned the Idaho Springs system and told him he wanted to buy it. Jones had no engineering knowledge, no equipment, no trucks, and no money. Despite the hurdles, Woody agreed to sell him the system and work for him. Fortunately, Woody also brought along the skill Jones needed most: technical know-how. He named the company Cowpoke Cable.

Cowpoke Cable eventually became Jones Intercable, but his biggest problem at the time was financing. Jones was the first pioneer to finance his acquisitions using the limited partnership model—widely used in the oil and gas business, but untried in the cable business. His first partnerships raised several thousand dollars, but his later partnerships raised millions. Jones estimated that he raised over a billion dollars in equity. Along the way, he generated a number of other businesses including a securities firm to finance his diverse business empire. Jones Intercable thrived until a difficult relationship with Bell Canada led to the sale of the company.

Jones believed higher education could greatly improve their learning models with the emerging new technologies; especially the Internet. He pursued his dream through Mind Extension University (1987) and eventually Jones International University (1993). He collaborated with other universities and became a hub for distance education and courseware delivered around the world through the Internet. His was the first online university. When he founded Jones International University he sought (and received) accreditation, but part of that process involved having a library. Jones thought the Library of Congress should serve that purpose, so he worked with them to digitize their collection for the benefit of the entire nation.

If you ever head down I-25 in the south part of Denver, you will find the Jones International University building. Jones was an avid science fiction fan and especially enthusiastic about the Dune series created by Frank Herbert. He planned the building around some of the concepts in the series, including his “war room,” which was designed with a Hollywood designer that worked on Star Wars. Jones always had the ability to dream big visions and make them a reality. Entrepreneur, financier, educator, author of poetry, technological visionary and internet pioneer—these describe the man who said he was not really in the cable business, but in the mind extension business.

(Larry Satkowiak is president and CEO of The Cable Center, the nonprofit educational arm of the cable industry. The Center preserves cable’s enduring contributions to society, strengthens relationships between cable and academia and unites the industry around the advancement of exceptional customer service. www.cablecenter.org)

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